“CrossFit saved my life.”

Written by Kirk MacLeod

I love CrossFit.
CrossFit saved my life.

This is not an “I was out of shape/unhealthy/on the road to nowhere” story.
CrossFit literally saved my life.

In June 2010, I left NYC and CrossFit NYC (my first CrossFit gym) and moved to Honduras as the United Nations Country Security Advisor.

Kirk, post-WOD at CrossFit Bogota, a.k.a. working out at 8600 ft.!

Kirk, post-WOD at CrossFit Bogota, a.k.a. working out at 8600 ft.!

In August 2010, just days after coming home on leave from Honduras, I suffered a ruptured colon. I almost died.

The EMTs weren’t sure I was going to make it to the hospital. The doctors and nurses in the Emergency Room weren’t sure I was going to make it to surgery. After surgery, they kept me in a step-down room for five days. Normally you are there a half-day. They thought I still might die… My surgeon told me that it was my intense level of health and fitness that saved me.

As far as I am concerned it was CrossFit that saved me.

It turned out the rupture was caused by colon cancer. They thought they had it all after an emergency resection. They discovered they were wrong in December 2010 when I went in for a reversal on my colostomy. The cancer had spread and developed throughout my abdomen. I did 3 months of chemotherapy in Spring 2011 followed by major nine-hour surgery/internal chemo called the Sugarbaker Procedure in June 2011 followed shortly after by three more months of chemo and then another reversal surgery.

In that Sugarbaker, they stripped the internal lining from the abdominal walls and off most of my internal organs, they removed the whole of my large intestine, part of the small intestine, my gall bladder and the nerves and blood supply to my left testicle (yeah, I thought I needed some of those things as well…). Amazingly, I have been fully functional since.

I thought that was enough.

In January 2012, after another surgery to reverse the ileostomy that resulted from the Sugarbaker – and according to all the tests available – I was declared cancer free, or more aptly: tumor free. I returned to work in February 2012 as the UN Country Security Advisor for the Dominican Republic.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. My first blood test came back with high colon cancer marker levels. A CT scan detected a tumor. A PET scan revealed activity in the tumor shown by the CT, another tumor in the abdomen and at least one “nodule of concern” in the lungs. In September 2012 I began three more months of chemo. February 2013 I had another bowel resection removing the two tumors as well as another piece of small intestine (no ostomy this time – small miracles). This was followed in March with a resection of part of the upper left lobe of the lung.

So, once again, as of just a couple weeks ago they have – based upon available tests – declared me cancer free (or perhaps, free of tumors)… at least for now. I remain at high risk for recurrence and have my first CT scan in August…

That brings me to today.

Just living life after cancer is not enough. I have had a very vocal “fuck cancer” attitude through all of this and continue to do so. I don’t want to just “be alive”… I want to live! I want to be vibrant and active. I want to strive for and accomplish impossible things!

CrossFit believes you should train for the unknown and the unknowable. You can’t get any more unknown and unknowable than this. The after of cancer treatment – the after of 8 surgeries and 9 months of chemotherapy – is harder than the treatment. How do you build a life? What do you do?

Take back your life by force, that’s what! Make a difference. So, I am going to do something big, really big. Why? Because Fuck cancer! That’s why.

On 4 August, 2013 I will take part in The Big Swim. I will swim from the province of New Brunswick to the province of Prince Edward Island. An open-ocean swim of at least 14km (about nine miles) to raise money for Brigadoon, a camp for chronically ill children.

How am I going to do this? Go back to what I love, of course! After finally being cleared to train again at the end of May, I started training to swim following a CrossFit Endurance protocol and I joined a local CrossFit Gym (CrossFit Kinetics in Halifax, NS). I walked into the Box and I felt at home. I picked up a bar and felt like was supposed to be there, doing that. I was taking a step back to remembering who I was…who I am.

I am so fortunate to have made so many friends in CrossFit. That, more than anything, is helping me do this crazy thing. Brian Harkins of NYC Endurance, who I used to train with, put me in touch with Max Wunderle, my brilliant CFE swim coach. Court Wing is talking to me almost every day, helping with my programming and providing guidance for my recovery, health and fitness.

From left: Allison, Scott, Tim, Brian, Kirk, and Matt represent CFNYC at the Run for Haiti.

From left: Allison, Scott, Tim, Brian, Kirk, and Matt represent CFNYC at the Run for Haiti.

When I work out now, I hear all my friends from the 7AM Morning Posse back in the day with Jacinto: Tim, Anthony, Brian, Marco, Scott, Stephanie, Matt, Allison… This is what keeps me going. Every day I set foot in the Box, or slip into the pool, I am reminded of my CrossFit community that saved my life and that is now helping me rebuild it.

How can you help? Support me in this swim by donating to Brigadoon. It is a brilliant charity that supports so many children dealing with chronic illness. This swim is a test of will for me and cancer pushed me to my limits. I cannot imagine dealing with it – or any chronic illness – as a child. Brigadoon helps those kids. Please help me help them.

Here is the link to donate.

For your entertainment, here is a comic a friend of mine just drew about me and the swim.